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Sunday, 22 May 2011

May 2011 Book Selection

Here is May’s book selection (there was none for April!). These are 10 seriously impressive volumes including a work by the Russian Patriarch of Moscow and an important book exploring the myths of Calvinism. You will also find some biography, church history and more on the important area of bioethics.

Bonne lecture à tous!

For the reviews, press the read more button.

Mario I Aguilar, Thomas Merton: Contemplation and Political Action, SPCK, ISBN
978-0-28106-058-0, £14.99
Thomas Merton (1915-1968) was an Anglo-American Roman Catholic writer. He was a Trappist Monk of the abbey of Gethsemani, Kentucky and was a poet, a social activist and a student of comparative religion. Best known for his early work The Seven Storey Mountain, he has been described as the twentieth century’s most influential Christian monk. This new book about him by Professor Mario Aguilar of the University of St. Andrews emphasises the fact that it was precisely Merton’s contemplation of God and of God’s love for humanity in the silence of his hermit’s cell that compelled him to engage with the outside world and to be involved with political activity. In the book Professor Aguilar deals with three main areas of Merton’s involvement with world affairs, his support for ‘the theology of the poor’ in South America, his stand against the nuclear arms race and the war in Vietnam and his interest in other world religions, especially those of the East. He also outlines what Merton can still contribute to contemporary thought, whether religious or secular, in terms of moral and social values. As Esther Reed notes, this book ‘not only informs readers about the extraordinary life and work of Thomas Merton, but is an outstanding account of the inseparability of contemplation and political action.’ It will be of interest to student of Merton, but also more widely to anyone who wants to think about the links between spirituality and politics.

Anthony Bash   Just Forgiveness, SPCK, ISBN 978-0-28106-399-4, £10.99.
It is generally accepted that forgiveness is something that lies at the heart of the Christian faith. There is, however, continuing debate about the nature of forgiveness and this important new book by Dr Anthony Bash of the University of Durham makes a fresh contribution to this debate. In this book, which follows on from his previous study Forgiveness and Christian Ethics (CUP 2007), Dr Bash gives an accessible account of the meaning of forgiveness, drawing on the Bible and the Christian tradition as well as important developments in philosophy, politics and psychology. He discusses how the victims of the Brighton bomb of 1984 responded to those who planted the bomb and argues that in order for forgiveness to be meaningful it has to be just (hence the title of the book). In his view this means that forgiveness has to involve confession, repentance and restitution. As he puts it ‘these are not the cream on the cake (of forgiveness) but the plate on which the cake rests’. Not everyone will agree with Dr Bash that confession, repentance and restitution are necessary if forgiveness is to be meaningful, but even those who disagree with him will learn much from his discussion of what forgiveness involves.

David Brown, Divine Humanity: Kenosis Explored and Defended, SCM, ISBN 978-0-33404-380-5, £ 50.00
In the prologue to St John’s Gospel we are told that ‘the Word was God’ (Jn 1:1) and that ‘the Word became flesh’ (Jn 1:14). The challenge for Christian theologians is how to understand these two statements in relation to each other. What precisely did the incarnation of the divine Word involve? One approach to this question  has been to understand the statement by St Paul in Phil 2:7 that the pre-existent Christ ‘emptied himself’ in terms of some kind of limitation of Christ’s divine nature as a consequence of the incarnation. For almost a century this approach to Christology, known as ‘kenoticism,’ was highly influential in British theological circles, being espoused by theologians such as Charles Gore, H R Mackintosh, Frank Weston., P T Forsyth and Oliver Quick. More recently, however, the popularity of this approach to Christology has declined and the argument of the new book by Professor David Brown, formerly at Durham and now at St Andrew’s, is that this decline is undeserved. In this book Professor Brown surveys the British tradition of kenotic Christology and contends that it should be seen as a rich and creative theological tradition that responded in a positive way to the intellectual challenges that orthodox Christian theology was then facing. In addition he also mounts his own contemporary defence of kenotic Christology, arguing that it should not be seen as an alternative to a traditional ‘two natures’ Christology, but is in fact a crucial part of any attempt to make sense of the teaching God has identified himself fully with humanity in the person of Jesus Christ. This book will be of interest to anyone who wants to understand better the British tradition of kenotic theology or, more fundamentally, to think more deeply about what it means to say that ‘the Word became flesh.’ Even if they do not ultimately agree with Professor Brown’s conclusions, anyone who reads this book will be benefit from being forced to think more deeply about the nature of the incarnation.

Walter Brueggemann, and Carolyn J Sharp, Disruptive Grace, SCM, ISBN 978-0-33404-399-7, £25.00  
Professor Walter Brueggemann has been one of the most well known and well respected writers on the Old Testament over the past few decades. In this new book, edited and introduced by Professor Carolyn Sharp from Yale Divinity School, we have a selection of addresses by Professor Brueggemann on the Old Testament and the biblical Canon. The book begins with an introductory essay by Professor Sharp entitled ‘Disruptive Grace: The uncompromising theology of Walter Brueggemann’ and it is then divided into four main sections which are concerned with the Torah, the Prophets, the Writings and ‘Canon and Imagination’ respectively. Each of these sections consists of series of addresses by Professor Brueggemmann and four introductory notes by Professor Sharp highlighting the key themes in each of them, ‘Demand and Deliverance; Brueggemann on the Torah’, ‘Refusal and Re-description: Brueggemann on the Prophets’, ‘Skepticism and Doxology: Brueggemann on the Writings’ and ‘Exodus and Resurrection: Brueggemann on the Canon.’ This is a helpful collection of Professor Brueggemann’s addresses that will be of interest to anyone wanting to know more about his thought or wanting to be stimulated to think afresh about the Old Testament and the Canon. 

Tim Grass, F F Bruce A Life, Authentic Publishing, ISBN 978-1-84227-737-9, £ 14.99
Professor F F Bruce was a significant figure in both British biblical scholarship and British Evangelicalism in the second half of the twentieth century. This major new biography of Bruce by Dr Tim Grass, an Associate Tutor at Spurgeons College, London, and Assistant Editor for the Ecclesiastical History Society, brings together discussion of his family life, his activity as a member of the Open Brethren and his academic career and argues that, like his father, Brue was always something of an evangelist at heart. It also considers how British Evangelicalism changed from the 1950s onwards and how Bruce’s career exemplifies the way in which Evangelicals have sought recognition within the academy as credible academic interpreters of the bible while at the same time wrestling with the relationship between academic theology and Evangelical commitment. This study will be of interest both to those interested in the development of British biblical scholarship and to those interested in the history of Evangelicalism.

Simon Jones, The World of the Early Church, Lion Hudson, ISBN 978-0-74595-500-1, £20.00
The Early Church did not exist in a vacuum, but in a particular historical and social context. It follows that in order to understand the Early Church properly it is necessary to understand that context. This new book by Simon Jones, associate lecturer in the New Testament at Spurgeon’s College, is intended to help people to understand that context better. Illustrated throughout with photographs, maps and introductions and drawing on archaeological evidence and contemporary sources, it explains what life was like for the first Christians and answers questions like - What was the role of pagan religion? - What did people do for entertainment? - What was family life like? - How did they earn a living? - How was society structured? - What was the role of women?  The decline in the study of ancient history and the classics in recent years means that knowledge of what the world of the Early Church was like is now much less widespread than it used to be. Books such as this new one therefore perform a very useful role in filling in the gaps in people’s knowledge. The World of the Early Church will not tell New Testament scholars or Patristic specialists anything they did not know already, but those whose knowledge has become rusty and those who are looking for an introductory volume to recommend to others will find it very welcome.

Ian Ker, G K Chesterton, OUP, ISBN 978-0-19960-128-8, £35.00
Dr Ian Ker is well known for his biography of Cardinal Newman and in his new book he turns his attention to another great convert from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism, G K Chesterton. Chesterton is best known today for his Father Brown detective stories, but there was far more to him than that. He was a novelist, poet, journalist, literary critic, political and social commentator and a brilliant apologist for both Roman Catholicism and Christianity in general. As Surprised by Joy makes clear, he was also, under God, a major influence in the conversion of C S Lewis. Dr Ker’s full length biography, which draws on many unpublished letters and papers, is the first comprehensive account of both Chesterton the man and Chesterton the writer. Ker argues that Chesterton should be seen as the successor of the great Victorian prose writers, Carlyle, Arnold, Ruskin, and, above all, Newman and as one the great English literary critics. He also gives full weight to Chesterton’s social and political thought and his work as a Christian apologist. This biography can be recommended to all who want to know more about Chesterton and will hopefully rescue Chesterton from the neglect into which he has so unjustly fallen in recent decades.  

Patriarch Kirill, Freedom and Responsibility: A Search for Harmony, DLT,
ISBN 978-0-23252-870-1, £ 12.99
Patriarch Kirill (Cyril) I has been the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, and Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, since 2009. This new book contains his reflections on the relationship between religion and liberal secular values in the modern world. Like Pope Benedict, Patriarch Kirill is concerned about the rise of a totalitarian secularism that leaves no place for religion. This is a particular concern for the Russian Church because of its experience of such totalitarianism during the communist era, an era which the Patriarch sees as illustrating very clearly the dangers facing civilization if it rejects its spiritual roots. According to the Patriarch what is required to avoid these dangers is co-existence between liberalism and religion on the basis of the moral values that are common to both. As he sees the matter, liberal values do not need to be abandoned, but they do need to be supplemented by other cultural and philosophical systems if totalitarianism is to be avoided. In addition he holds that the establishment of harmony between liberal and religious world views will require not just declarations of mutual friendship and respect, but also the reform of law and global governance. This is a significant and wide ranging contribution to the discussion about the path that the world should take in the twenty first century and should be read by anyone concerned about what our increasingly interdependent global civilization should look like in the years ahead.

Neil Messer, Respecting Life: Theology and Bioethics, SCM, ISBN 978-0-33404-333-1, £30.00
As anyone who keeps an eye on the media will be aware, bioethical issues continue to be the centre of controversy in Western societies. Issues such as abortion and euthanasia continue to be hotly debated while new ethical questions are raised by developments in areas such as embryology and the use of stem cells. These issues are necessarily of great concern to Christians, as well as to the wider public, because they raise fundamental questions about the value of life, the meaning of suffering and death and humanity’s place in the natural world. In this new book Dr Neil Messer, who is a United Reformed Church minister and Reader in Theology and Head of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Winchester, draws on his background in research in molecular biology to address a range of bioethical issues including assisted dying, healthcare rationing, human cloning, stem cell research and human-animal hybrid embryos. He addresses these issues from a Reformed Protestant perspective, arguing that such an approach allows for a critical and constructive engagement with public debates beyond the walls of the churches. This is an important book that will be of interest to anyone who wants to engage with bioethical issues. Even if you disagree with Dr Messer’s conclusions, engaging with his work will make you more informed about the matters under discussion and force you to think more carefully and critically about why you come to you own conclusions about them.

Kenneth J Stewart, Ten Myths about Calvinism: Recovering the Breadth of the Reformed Tradition, Apollos, ISBN 978-1-84474-513-5, £14.99
Every Christian theological tradition is surrounded by myths, beliefs about that tradition which are widely held, but which are not in fact true. In this new book from Apollos, the American Presbyterian theologian Professor Kenneth Stewart considers ten myths about the Calvinist tradition. Professor Stewart is himself a Calvinist and the book is addressed in the first instance at his fellow Calvinists in the hope that the Calvinist movement ‘will learn to be more adept at self-criticism, more discerning about who does and does not stand firmly in the movement’s mainstream, less characterized by a default tendency to resist cultural change and even more concerned with reaching our admittedly changed culture with the gospel.’ Professor Stewart adds, however, that he hopes ‘it will also prove useful both to those who hold no “opposite” theological position as well as those who have consciously decided that the Calvinist position is not for them.’ The book is in two parts. The first part considers ‘Four myths Calvinists should not be circulating (but are).’ These are: ‘One Man (Calvin) and one City (Geneva) is Determinative,’ ‘Calvin’s view of predestination must be ours,’ ‘TULIP (the acronym that has been used to summarise the key doctrinal emphases of the Synod of Dort (1618-19), total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace and the perseverance of the saints) is the yard stick of the truly Reformed’ and ‘Calvinists take a dim view of revival and awakening.’ The second part looks at ‘Six myths non-Calvinists should not be circulating (but are).’  These are: ‘Calvinism is largely anti-missionary,’ ‘Calvinism promotes antinomianism,’ ‘Calvinism leads to Theocracy,’‘Calvinism undermines the creative arts,’ ‘Calvinism resists gender equality’ and
‘Calvinism has fostered racial inequality.’ Professor Stewart also has a concluding section entitled ‘Recovering our Bearings: Calvinism in the Twenty-first Century’ and an appendix on the earliest known use of TULIP. Calvinism has been a key part of the Protestant tradition and, as such, it has also been important within Anglicanism. This new book will be a very valuable resource for anyone wanting to understand Calvinism more accurately.

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